Yes, I know it has been WAY too long since I posted a blog and sadly, this one is going to be short. I guess it is more for me, to force myself to get back on the blogging horse, so to speak. So, tomorrow come hell or high water, I will post a blog updating everyone on the trials and tribulations of the Brown family.
So, until tomorrow....
As I write this we are enroute from one small secluded island in the Ha'apai group of Tonga to another. It feels great to be back out again even though it is only a short jaunt because O has to work on Monday. Sunday we will sail back to the Vavau group. However, now that I have witnessed the beauty of this island chain I would like to come much more often.
The Ha'apai group of islands in Tonga lie about 73 nautical miles South of Vavau. There are sixty mostly uninhabited islands. I think only 17 of the islands are actually inhabited, all of the islands consist of white sand beaches, barrier reefs, lagoons and coral shoals which all make for crystal clear water, great beachcombing, and fabulous snorkeling. I LOVE IT HERE! Being here reminds me of why I love cruising. It is kind of funny, I had tired of cruising when we pulled into Tonga and longed for a normal home with a community. After seven months of living in limbo between cruisers and landlubbers, I truly miss cruising, albeit not cruisers, just the cruising life and the freedom it allows me. Ha'apai is magical.
However, I don't think Ha'apai was quite so magical for all. Ha'apai is the place where the infamous Mutiny on the Bounty occurred. In April 1789 Bounty was off of Tofua in Ha'apai when Fletcher Christianson cast Captain William Bligh and 18 of his crew adrift with 150lbs of biscuits, 20lbs of salted meat, 120L of water, a sextant, ships log and compass.
Bligh then went ashore and was not well received, their quartermaster was killed and the other crew left the island scrambling for their lives. Forty two days later they arrived in Indonesia which is still the longest ocean voyage in an open boat ever recorded.
Captain Cook also visited the Ha'apai islands on his three trips here because it afforded him fresh water from springs. He spent five weeks exploring the Ha'apai islands alone. I enjoy thinking of them in the historical context because I known the islands have changed very little or at all from then, except now I don't worry about the Tongans attacking and killing us. I guess change really can be a wonderful thing!
On the trip down we saw a pod of six humpback whales. They are such beautiful and majestic creatures; I never tire of watching them. The whales seemed to be in a particularly good mood, they were fin slapping (the fins are six feet long), and breeching. Honestly, the kids and I were in awe. Otis was less awe struck as he sees this regularly with his work. I was kind of freaking out that they were going to tip the boat over. It is amazing how big they are and how small and vulnerable I feel even on Indy!
When we first arrived in Ha'apai we went to our friend Craig's restaurant Mariner's Café. It was cool catching up with him and checking out his business here. The following day we went to the beautiful island of Ovalava. Craig bought about four acres of property right on the beach. What is inredible is that there is a fresh water spring on the property as well, a gold mine on an island. Anyway, he has built a little fale where he sometimes holds parties for the boats in the harbor and sells beer/wine. We had a potluck/bonfire the other night which was fun. The kids were in heaven running the beach and helping with the bonfire.
The following day we packed up Sam and tried to go exploring the island. I wanted to hit the windward side for shells. We found a path and set out to cross the island. We ended up walking in circles through the thick bush of the island. Long story short we got horribly lost. When we finally emerged on the other side we could not figure out the best way to walk around. Keep in mind it was about 1:00pm and blazing hot. I had also tweaked my back the previous day so walking on uneven sand was painful. I have to say I hardly complained. Yeah, long walks on the beach in the blazing sun with a four year old complaining the entire way...welcome to paradise!!! Finally after about three hours O sat Sam and I under a shade tree and ran down the beach to get our dinghy. I am so grateful not to be a man, the whole chivalrous, take a hit for the team philosophy wouldn't sit well with me.
As for our normal life in Vavau, things have changed a bit. For one, we have decided to stay here for ANOTHER hurricane season. Otis has agreed to complete a mini refit on Jocara, which should keep him busy. However, he will only be working 25 hrs a week which will allow him time to do necessary projects on Indy or give us time to come back here or just leave town for the outer anchorages three days a week. Most of the cruising community will have departed for NZ so we will have the Vavau group to ourselves again, which will be nice.
Lately I have been very busy. I have begun teaching at Sam's preschool. His teacher approached me about helping out a month ago. I have been volunteering there 3 days a week ever since. I have a class of ten kids between the ages of 4.5/5. It is challenging keeping their attention and making sure they are really grasping what I am trying to teach. Again, I have no idea how our society justifies compensating teachers so poorly. I know that the minute I step into the school I will not have one minute to myself. It is full on from beginning to end. I wonder how we back home expect/demand so much from our teachers yet reward them with so little. Of course everyone talks about how important teachers are but actions speak louder than their words. Again, I think it should be mandatory for every parent to teach three weeks a year(straight). Attitudes would change dramatically very quickly. Granted teaching is rewarding and I love it but it is also the most demanding full on job I have ever had.
After being at school only a day or two I was quickly reminded again how much the school needs. There is not a proper fence around the school so the children often wander into neighboring houses, there is no electricity, the roof leaks, window panes are missing, and there is no sink in the bathroom just a tap outside attached to the side of the building. Dorothy, the woman who runs the school, does a fantastic job, especially given how little she has to work with. So, I decided some fundraising should be in order. I got together with Dorothy and we put together a wish list, priced it out, hung it on the wall and during the regatta we made the school a place the regatta participants had to visit in order to get a stamp in their regatta passports. In total we raised $1,610 Pa'anga or about $800 USD. This will at least buy us a fence and a sink and some window panes, so it is a start. One of the boatyards that was up for the regatta has offered to send school supplies since we are so limited here (cannot buy art paints or construction paper or kids books or ANY type of educational instruction books for the teachers). Again, I am reminded how the US truly is the land of plenty. In one day of attending yard sales back home, I could have the school stocked with all the toys and books they need for a year!
Once we return to Neiafu I am going to organize a work day for the community to come together to help fix things up. However, I may have to have another type of fundraiser to buy paint, wood, and plumbing materials etc. The rent on the school is cheap but the bank which owns the building has said all maintenance is up to the school, hence why there is no electricity!
Anyway, it has been a wonderful experience getting involved again. I feel like I have a purpose other than the boat, kids and socializing!
Ben & Sam continue to enjoy their respective schools and the friends they have made here. Many times they run around on shore with no adults in sight, just bouncing between playmates. The independence seems to be good for them and they remain well mannered in spite of the freedom. Ben tends to be inquisitive and eager to learn about everything around him. Sometimes I find he questions my authority a little too often but I think it is normal at his age and it keeps me on my toes. Sam is a typical 4 yr old. He idolizes his big brother and wants to do everything Ben does. They still get along well given the age difference and the fact they are around each other constantly.
I have had some problems with Ben's school,(too many children in his class 52 kids!) but that is for another blog. I have decided that he is going back to homeschooling three days a week. Sadly, one of those days has to be Saturday because I am working but he understands and is eager to learn.
I have to run as we are about to anchor off a beach known for lobsters!!!! Fingers crossed.
Things have gone back to normal. We are no longer on the island, the kids are in school and O is working like a madman.
It is hard to believe that we have been here since January the time has flown by. This is the longest we have been in one place since begining this journey. As many of you that read the blog know I have been anxious to settle in one place for a while so this has been a welcome respite for me. Tonga is begining to feel like home. As cruisers it feels strange to be here but not really part of the cruising community, although we have never been a huge part of that community anyway. So we will be here until the end of the season and possibly longer. If we do leave at the end we will make a fast and furious run to Asia. However, as the last three years have proved, this is always subject to change.
Considering we are going to be here until at least the end of the season, I guess we are semi landlubbers. It is hard seeing all of our friends arrive and then move on, but when I drop the kids off at school and go for a walk, stopping to chat with people along the way I am overwhelmed by a wonderful sense of community and security. I guess for once in a long time I do not feel like a visitor or voyeur into someone else's culture.
Our friends on Uliad have been with us here now for a few months which has been great. However, they had to move on and last week left for Fiji. I had be dreading saying good bye which is by far the hardest part of this life. Although saying good bye to them was made a little easier knowing that we will make it a priority to see them again, hopefully sooner rather than later. They really are our cruising family.
The BIG news is that Otis has gainful employment. He is the captain of a 54ft charter sailboat here. This keeps him very busy. He is often away on charter for long stretches of time with a few days turn around before setting off again. However, he loves the job and the freedom/ flexibility that it offers him. The boat has a whale watching license and a whale swimming license which means that they can get teh boat close to the whale and even swim with the humpback whales which is an amazing experience. Tonga is one of only two places in the world that allows people to actually swim with the whales. However it is, as it should be, strictly regulated and monitored. Hence why you must have a license to be around them or swim with them. I think there are only 19 businesses in Tonga that are allowed to be near or swim with the whales. You can see the boat O is running on www.sailtonga.com the name of the boat is Jocara.
Anyway, getting back to Otis, because of his job we will be here for while. While he is away I hold down the fort in the harbor. However, in an effort to keep occupied, I have decided to start working toward my dive masters scuba license. So begining the week after next I am going to take my advance and rescue classes and then hopefully intern with a dive shop here to get the dives under my belt for the dive master certificate.
The kids are doing really well. Although Sam seems to be having a hard time keeping track of his shoes! He lost two pairs last week alone! One of them were actually Ben's. This may sound trivial but Tonga does not really have shoe stores, and most of the stuff sold in the stores is plastic made in China stuff which does not hold up to the normal wear and tear of a four year old boy. I would much rather spend th extra money for quality but there is not much of an option for that here. Thankfully my mom is coming to the rescue with a new pair of durable shoes which I am going to superglue onto his feet....I kid..kind of.
The other day we had the honor of being invited to a first birthday party. IN Tonga they go all out for the first birthday and the twenty first. There were easily a hundred and fifty people there. A jumping castle was rented which the kids loved. The amount of food on teh table was aweinspiring. I have NEVER seen a table so filled with food. There were ten pigs alone. In a table big enough to fit 150 people there was not one free spot. After teh jumping castle everyone sits down, they have a few prayers and speeches and then it's game on and everyone digs in.There are no utensils used and lots of the dishes are in small plastic containers that are for individuals. There was pig/chicken/fish/pasta/ beef salad/ yams/kasava/coleslaw as well as cakes and other various salads. The entire spread was made by ONE family. The men however, do not join in with the sit down meal. THey continue cooking the umu across the street. The 150 people were male village elders/woman and children. There was such a sense of love and community in the gathering. It really brought home their strong sense of family. Everyone was quick with a smile, there was chatter and laughter filling the air( I nkow it sounds hokey, but it realy is true!). It was an honor to be invited and I felt so welcome. To me, the reoccuring theme for Tongans is family. It truly is the most important part of their lives and I have learned a great deal from them, their generosity and sense of community. You cannot help but get caught up in their love and friendship.
Well Sam is off from school for two weeks, O is away on charter and I am trying to write this while watching Sam so I must run. I have pushed my limit.